By Akanna Okeke
It’s been a rough year. No one could have predicted how crazy things would get. It feels like everything’s turning on its head. Cities are burning, literally. Coupled with that is the pervading fear of a lingering virus. You look around you and all you see is chaos and uncertainty, unrest and anxiety.
At times like this, it’s hard to know what to do. In fact, it’s all too easy to throw our hands up and give up on everything. Since the world’s in chaos, what point is there in trying to hold it all together? What point is there in starting a family, raising children, furthering one’s education, making new friends? There certainly is no point in expanding one’s life in a chaotic and highly unpredictable world.
But at times like this, we should remember the principle of moral hierarchy. You must have heard of, or perhaps personally know, some men who do close to nothing to provide for their families, yet are great benefactors to people outside. They help pay school fees for people’s kids in their community, help others start businesses, connect some to lucrative jobs, and broker peace to save marriages. Yet, their own marriages suffer and their homes are in disarray. They are resented by members of their own family because the charity for which they are so well-known do not begin in their homes. They are more concerned about how outsiders perceive them than those who know them best. Such people exist. More common are those who are more concerned about ending world poverty and hunger, donating to charities that feed starving children in poorer countries, but do nothing to meet the needs of their own neighbors. They don’t even know who their neighbors are.
What is typically recommended for such people is to follow what is called the moral hierarchy — understanding that we are first responsible to those closest to us, and after we’ve taken care of them, we can gradually move on to the next in proximity. This means first taking care of your household. Starting with you, make sure there are no needs lacking within your immediate family. Then you can look out to your neighborhood and community.
Are there people who live around you or who are your close friends that have needs that you can meet? Meet those needs to the best of your ability and then you can look out further to your city. How can you be of help there? Then your country, ensuring that you’re an upstanding citizen performing your civic duties as required of you and serving where you can. And then maybe you can finally look out to the world and strive to end world hunger and poverty. But the point is to take care of your immediate circle of influence first and then gradually work your way out the broader circles. Rather than being concerned with looking good in the outer spheres of life while your inner circles suffer.
I think that’s the same approach we ought to take in these tumultuous times. There’s a lot going on out there. Too much to keep up with: chaos in the streets, injustice in governance, a highly politicized pandemic, pandemonium in politics, and the ridiculousness of it all. That’s more than enough to drive you up a wall. Enough to propel you onto the streets to lend your voice to the call to end it all. Naturally. But first, how’re you doing? How’s your family doing? Is your wife mad at you? Are your children estranged from you?
At times like these, we must focus on what’s most important first, what’s immediately in front of us, before we allow ourselves to be distracted by what’s further away. First, examine yourself. How’s your mental health? What’s your spiritual life like? How’s your relationship with God going? Fix all that first and make sure you’re good there. It may even help to turn off the news for a bit and go off social media just to ‘get yourself’ first. Focus on your household as well. Don’t cower from starting a family because the world seems to be coming to an end. Go ahead and get married, raise kids, and make sure they’re all in good standing with you first before you begin to worry about what’s going on in your community, who killed who, or who arrested who. You can take a stand against injustice out there — as you should — after you’ve ensured that justice and peace reign in your own home first. Never use external events as an excuse to neglect the internal ones. Focus on the areas that are more within your control, like yourself and your household, before you take on the world.
The positive results we’re sure to get from tackling our immediate smaller problems first will give us the impetus needed to face the far more daunting challenges plaguing society and the world at large. Then when we find ourselves in a crazy year like this one, we know that although we couldn’t have controlled how it turned out, we sure can control how we respond to it. The wise response is to focus on sorting out our own lives first before we begin to look outside. After all, who are we to try to change the world if we can’t even change our own lives first?